“All the Way” by Steven S. DeKnight
The Magic Box is ramping up for a big Halloween sale! All the Scoobies are there in costume, and Dawn is looking for opportunities to make off with the small portables. There’s goofing around in progress: Xander’s making pirate noises at kids, Willow’s giving a stereotypically ugly witch a hard time... and Buffy is nobly enduring.
When Spike turns up in the basement, he tries to lure Buffy out on patrol. But Giles points out that if anything’s going to go evilly awry on Halloween night, it’ll probably take ambulatory form and seek them out.
With that, we’re treated to a glimpse of another S6 decoy. This one is an old fellow named Kaltenbach, an Ed Asner type with creeping dementia, whom we’re meant to take as some kind of child-eating “Get off my lawn!” demon. Will it be attack of the scary grandpa tonight in Sunnydale?
While we contemplate that unlikely prospect, we see The Magic Box sale has been a massive success. And everyone’s wiped out from committing so much customer service. The prospect of cleaning up after a busy day leads into a little three-way friction among Giles and WillTara when Willow offers to clean up the shop using magic.
Then Xander sees his girlfriend teaching Dawn the dance of capitalist superiority, basically celebrating with the money, and he experiences one of those waves of love, one big enough to finally wash away his wimpage over announcing their engagement.
(This moment has nice edges, this scene of Dawn and Anya having cheerful innocent fun when Dawn has just pinched something from her.)
The gang heads over to Chez Slay to have an impromptu engagement party, and when Willow decorates the house, again using magic, the friction threatens to become an actual WillTara argument until Willow ducks out on it.
Dawn has arranged to do some ducking of her own; she’s going out with Amber Tamblyn! Who is her friend Janice! They are lying to parent figures, and also have found themselves some boys! Teenaged heterosexual mating rituals await our viewing pleasure.
Sadly, Justin and Zack are vampires.
The kids rush through the preliminaries of teen dating. Justin tries to emanate the right mix of shy and sweet with a dash of sexy hoodlum. They hurl eggs at the neighborhood until arriving at Kaltenbach’s house. Then there’s a ‘dare-ya-dare-ya’ game, and despite the bravado she’s shown up until now, Janice of Sunnydale chickens out on smashing the old man’s pumpkin. It’s Dawn who goes up the scary porch, who grabs the scary jack-o-lantern, and who spazzes bigtime the old man pops out with a boo!
Meanwhile, Giles is apparently trying to make Xander feel as nervous as possible about getting hitched. Will their lives become too stressful if Xander’s never that successful? The tide on that wave of love and confidence in his relationship has started to recede. The terror is starting to roll in. If only he could look forward to an opportunity to put his doubts into words.
Across town, Kaltenbach invites the kids indoors. The boys, being vampires, are only too happy to wander into a septuagenarian’s mancave. The girls show actual courage by going in. All because Dawn wants to impress Justin? Probably.
The pressure is still building on Xander as the party talk moves to home ownership, cars, and the spawning of little XandAnylets. He and Buffy flee the scene, and she’s very sweet and supportive right up until the moment when she remembers she’s miserable with her lot and decides to bail on the patrol Giles told her not to bother with.
Bad call, Giles.
The clock has by now run out for Kaltenbach—he’s harmless after all. Justin claims to have stolen his wallet, the kids all flee the scene. (Actually, he did steal the wallet. He just neglected to mention that he killed and ate its owner.) He and Dawn bond over stealing. By now, the boys are actively considering whether they’re going to go all the way with the girls—by which they mean turning them.
They’re definitely planning to feed off them at the very least. Zack steals a car, and this lets them segue into parking. Dawn gets to wear Justin’s jacket—there’s a little Thriller homage there—and has her first kiss. Janice gets bitten.
The good news, unless you’re really down on Dawn, is that by now the Scoobies know the girls have pulled a fast one, and are searching for them.
WillTara hit the Bronze. Their earlier argument had petered out, but when Willow proposes a risky Dawn-hunting spell, it flares up again, big time. She commits a major relationship no-no by telling Tara to shut up. Don’t do that, Willow.
Spuffy and Giles end up at Lovers Lane with what turns out to be at least six or ten vampires. They’ve decided they’re over the whole taking Halloween off thing. Too bad for them. Giles takes out Zack very handily indeed. Spuffy gets all the rest, except for Justin himself. He chases Dawn through the woods and is as sweet to her as a would-be predator possibly can be. Which gets him nowhere, since she’s picked up a crossbow bolt and—even though they agree they really do like each other quite a lot—runs him through.
(The Buffy half of Spuffy might take a lesson here, if she were truly wise to her own self-interest.)
If the BtVS gang were explicitly composed like a war party in the Dungeons and Dragons vein—Giles as cleric, WillTara as mages, Xander, Buffy and Spike as fighters, then Dawn would do well to put her meager pool of experience points into some actual thief skills. She’s got a talent, you’ve got to admit, for going unnoticed at key moments. I mean, there’s a whole fight sparked in that parking lot when the troops come barging in to save her. And yet she flees the scene and nobody really twigs.
She’s larcenous. There’s the actual stealing and the fact that she has no problem with same. Here in “All the Way” she sneaks the crossbow bolt past her undead would-be killer at a crucial moment. Was it up his jacket sleeve? I don’t know, but the fact that she did it argues that she’s got the makings of a decent sleight of hand roll.
If Dawn were to have the opportunity to develop this talent, to learn to pick locks and subvert security systems and screw over surveillance cameras, it could be really useful. Especially if another Mayor-type villain turned up on the Sunnydale scene.
Now, of course, nobody’s going to tell the baby of the team to go out and learn to become the Pink Panther. And for all I know they go in this direction in the comic series (You have all realized by now that I haven’t read S8 and S9, right? And what you’ve had to say about these stories pretty much dissuades me from wanting to.) But she’s got the talent, the temperament, and they’ve got the niche, is what I’m saying.
That aside, what is there to say about about Dawn’s Night Off?
We’re into a serious wheel-spinner here, to use Gardner’s term—we get the little bit of memory-abuse perpetrated by Willow on Tara, Giles’ rising disquiet over the state of the Buffy, and a bit of time for the gang to assimilate news of XandAnya’s engagement.
In retrospect, of course, we see that Willow has taken that next step forward when she realizes that it’s not just Giles but also Tara who’s concerned about her magic use—and when she basically decides: Too Bad! But we’re not meant to see that.
And the Trio are out of sight, too. One can easily imagine that they’re out trick or treating.
But I bet few of you cares too deeply about “All the Way,” because this episode is really just an opening act, a little appetizer to lead us into next week.
Next: Sing out Loud, Sing out Strong!
A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second Gale, story too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)